Thursday, March 19, 2009
What would provoke someone to spend three grueling hours baking, frosting and decorating a cake that would be devoured in three minutes? I can't really tell you the answer except for the fact that I did it, and I did it with pleasure! Actually, if I really think about it, a couple of reasons seem to justify the extravagant use of time and cost I go towards producing good food:
1.) The giddy feeling I get when I admire the finished product.
2.) The ohh and ahhs from others when they see and taste what I have made.
3.) Cooking is my art.
I think all of us has this innate pride in things we make with our own two hands, no matter how crappy it comes out. In fact, the worse it comes out, the more inspired we are to produce a better prototype, and the more pride we get from the improved version. It is an especially vicious cycle with cake making. Cakes and pastries take the most precise of measurements. A little too much flour, a little low on temperature, and you end up with a gooey mess. As a bit of a perfectionist, I decided against seeking help to manage expectations, but rather, to obtain resources that would help me make a finished product that would meet my standards. Therefore, I rarely bake at home, where I can screw up in more ways than you can imagine. Instead, I sign up baking classes by pastry chefs where I can get professional help.
My most recent masterpiece was created at Coup Kitchen under the supervision of pastry chef owner Alfred Cheung. The Opera Cake is one of those delectable chocolate creations that you know is worth more calories than one can afford, but it is so delicious that you don't care.
There are many stories about the origins of this cake, which is also known as the Clichy cake. It is aptly named after Louis Clichy who first showcased it at the 1903 Exposition Culinaire in Paris. However, a similar dessert was also sold at another pastry shop, Dalloyau, called L'Opera in honor of the Paris Opera. Regardless, all can agree that whoever came up with this combination of chocolate ganache, hazelnut and coffee buttercream, nestled between sheets of chocolate and vanilla cake, was a genius!
So how did I honor this cake that took a total of 200 minutes to make? I made it into a birthday cake for my dear friend Michelle. We also had a full on Mexican meal in which I made everything from scratch including the tortillas and nacho chips. So, were the fruits of my labor worth it? Absolutely! We ate, we drank and we were merry for hours into the night. I really think there is this deep appreciation when someone cooks good food for you. You feel all warm and fuzzy as if you can taste the love through each morsel that goes into your mouth. And from the cook's perspective, there is truly nothing like the delight you feel when you see people close their eyes and savor the food that you made!